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A companion volume to Being an Actor, Callow's classic text about the experience of acting in the theatre, Shooting the Actor reveals the truth about film acting. The book describes his film work, from Amadeus to Four Weddings and a Funeral, from Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls to Shakespeare in Love.
Its centrepiece is a hilarious and sometimes agonising account of the making of Manifesto, shot in the former Yugoslavia. When Callow first met the film's director Dušan Makavejev to discuss the movie, they both got on famously. Months later the two were barely speaking. Insightful and always entertaining, Shooting the Actor reveals more than any formal guide could about the process of film-making and the highly complex nature of being both actor and director.
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Shooting the Actor
With Interventions from Du?an Makavejev
By Simon Callow
PicadorCopyright © 2003 Simon Callow and Du?an Makavejev
All rights reserved.
22 September 87
The first I heard about this film was a call from my agent saying that there was a director with a name she couldn't pronounce who wanted to see me. 'Doogan Molokov. Something like that.' 'Duan Makavejev?' I suggested. 'No, no,' she said, 'definitely not that, something else.' It was, of course, Duan Makavejev.
I was excited. I had seen Montenegro, and (as an amateur Reichian myself) had for years unsuccessfully pursued W. R. – Mysteries of the Organism, so I wasn't exactly au fait with Makavejev's output. The mere idea of making a European film, as opposed to an American or an English one, was stimulating. Unlike most of my generation, I had not done my formative film-going at the local Regal or Odeon, nor on television. I was in Africa for a crucial lump of my childhood, and a showing of The Master of Ballantrae at the Victoria Memorial Institute, with the reels in whatever order the amateur projectionist's caprice dictated, was the best one could hope for. My real movie-going started in mid-adolescence at the Paris Pullman, the National Film Theatre, and the Academies, One, Two and Three and it was Bergman, Pasolini, Jean Renoir Lelouch, Agnès Varda; Elvira Madigan, Les Enfants du Paradis, Exterminating Angel. BBC-2 started up shortly after, and then the floodgates were really open: Eisenstein, Donskoi, Fellini. I hardly saw an American film, after the Disneys and Danny Kayes of childhood, till they were of historical interest, part of a Season or a Retrospective, I almost never saw a modern American film as it came out. So although it was very interesting to make the trip down Wardour Street to meet this or that American film-maker when the opportunity arose, I had little faith in my castability nor much sense of excitement at being part of the Hollywood dream factory. To me film was Film, not the movies, or, in the slang of my family, the flicks. It was Art. Snobbish, silly and plain wrong this may have been, but there it was. As a result, my most envied contemporary was Jeremy Irons when, immediately after the success of The French Lieutenant's Woman, he worked, first with Skolimovski then with Volker Schlorndorff!
'Schlorndorff!' (with the exclamation mark!) sounds so much better than 'Schlöndorff'. With its teutonic growl added in Simon's version, Volker's name sounds as a war-cry, or like a swear-word!
Little though I knew of his actual work, Makavejev was clearly out of the common run of English and American film-makers: a creator of political and erotic fantasies, someone who used film, played about with the form a little. So even though Cannon, who were making the film, wouldn't let me see a script, which one would normally expect, I went off to see Makavejev in the highest spirits. Mention of Cannon added another promising ingredient to the project. Crazy buccaneers churning out mediocre action epics and buying up cinema chains, they now wanted to establish themselves as patrons of the Art of Film. Vain and tacky they might be, but there was something engagingly reckless about these cousins, Golan and Golem, universally known as the Go-Go twins. Their ambition seemed to have rather over-extended itself by this stage, however, and they appeared to be on the brink of bankruptcy. So the question this afternoon was not merely, would I get the part, but would the film ever get made?
Golan and Globus, abrasive and obnoxious intruders on the Hollywood and world film scene, have slipped, travelling through Simon's intuitive and fine-tuned inner ear, into 'Golan and Golem' and 'Menahem Golem'. I consulted Britannica.
golem,in Jewish folklore, an image endowed with life. The term is used in the Bible (Psalms 139:16) and in Talmudic literature to refer to an embryonic or incomplete substance. It assumed its present connotation in the Middle Ages, when many legends arose of wise men who were able to bring effigies to life by means of a charm, or Shem (a combination of letters forming a sacred word or one of the names of God). The Shem, written on paper, was placed in the golem's mouth or affixed to his head. Its removal de-animated the golem. In early golem tales, the robot was usually a perfect servant, his only fault being a too literal or mechanical fulfilment of his master's orders. In the 16th century the golem acquired the character of protector of the Jews in time of persecution but also a frightening aspect. The most famous of the genre involves the golem created by Rabbi Judah Löw (c.1525–1609) of Prague. It formed the basis for Gustav Meyrink's novel Der Golem (1915; Eng. trans. 1928) and for a classic of German silent films (1920), which provided many fine points on the movement and behaviour of man-made monsters that were subsequently adopted in the ever-popular US horror film Frankenstein.
It was rather hard to find Cannon's offices, which appeared to be deliberately concealed somewhere along Wardour Street, but when I did eventually get in and took the lift to the top I was greeted by Makavejev and his wife Bojana, who work, think and play together and who were, on this occasion, sitting in the dark, the electricity having been shut off as an economy measure. It was a wet, cold summer's day, and they sat there shivering but also laughing because they have a merry attitude to things. This is unusual in film-makers, who generally seek to stress the importance of their position and the greatness of the work they are about to embark upon, and it's an almost certain principle that the more trivial, fatuous and inconsequential the work, the more serious they become.
Makavejev is about my height, grey-haired, grey-bearded, grey-eyed, too. He bobs and weaves, and is very open, not formidable at all. There is no sense of domination about him. He's completely interested in every idea as it comes up. Bojana is much shorter, with a comfortable physique and beautiful, sexy eyes which give everything she says a certain witty edge. They sat roaring with laughter and talking about everything under the sun, and very soon I was laughing too. They had the gaiety of refugees who'd met up with a friend they hadn't expected to see again as long as they lived. Duan told me how the film had come about – how Menahem Golem had commissioned him to make it on the spur of the moment at the Cannes Festival – and he did so with the crafty eyes and throaty laugh of someone describing how he'd outwitted the border guards. It was clear that he regarded the project as a conspiracy between us – him, Bojana and me – against the producers. This was very refreshing.
Simon is a sharp observer. He dictated his impressions into a small cassette recorder. It's amusing to read someone's description of shared events or places. Sometimes it's something absolutely else.
Our first meeting was on the abandoned fourth floor of the London Cannon building in Wardour Street. There were four hundred scripts on the shelves around us (only four were made into films). The year before, I'd seen Otto Plashkes and his two assistants in the same place flooded by these scripts, boxes and boxes of them. It was just after Cannon took over the EMI and Elstree Studios, and Classic Cinemas. Cannon was everywhere (Royal Première included), and David Puttnam was in America, taking with him Ridley Scott, and Hugh Hudson, and Lynda Miles, and whoever he could save from Go-Go. The Cannon invasion was co-ordinated from San Vicente Boulevard in Los Angeles, Tel-Aviv and the Dutch Antilles.
The day after Menahem Golan signed a famous napkin deal with Jean-Luc Goddard in Cannes, Efi and Nitzi Gilad took me to the Israeli reception on the Majestic beach. 'Do you want to meet Menahem?,' they ask me, 'No, thanks,' I say, and see someone in a white silk Superman jacket and Nike shoes, turning around and shaking my hand: 'Hi, Duan Makavejev. We like your work. I'll give you the same deal as I gave Godard. One million dollars. You do what you want. And you get fifty per cent of France and all of Yugoslavia.' I see a camera in the crowd. We are in a quickly formed circle. Menahem is creating another event. If this camera works for the festival circuit, we must now be on about thousand screens all over Cannes. 'Sorry, we can't,' I hear myself. 'We don't have a napkin here'. 'We don't need a napkin,' Menahem shoots back; 'we shake hands, that's enough.' I am silent. The camera is circling behind us. 'I am getting Brando for Godard, you know that,' says Menahem. 'You can go to Tahiti, and play hoola-hoola for Brando, but you will never get him,' I reply. 'I'll go to Tahiti, and play hoola-hoola, and crawl like that (Menahem shows how he will go on his four legs) and I'll get Brando for Godard!' (The camera is still circling.) Menahem is quick, he knows how to close. 'Listen, Duan Makavejev (he pronounces my name right), you are a good satirist (he knows my films). Any time you want to work with us, just come.' Off he goes. (The camera was from Gideon Bachman's 16mm crew, working on a film that was never finished.)
(I still wonder if, when King Lear was sold to him as 'a story of a father with three daughters', Menahem was aware of Jean-Luc's awareness that Menahem has three daughters.)
For about two years, Cannon produced a feature film about every eight days, and they were treated as a newly emerged mini-major.
After Andrei Konchalovsky made Runaway Train based on a Kurosawa story, Cannon became 'respectable'. When Ivan Passer signed his three million dollar contract (as his salary for directing and producing six films) (money he never got), I went to Menahem with my Sonia Braga story and got a 'two-picture deal' in five minutes. The first film never happened, the second was For a Night of Love – Manifesto. My only condition was to have Ivan as producer of my films. It was granted. Some time later, in the middle of preparations, Ivan was suddenly off, but fortunately not before we had got through him Eric Stoltz and Camilla Søeberg.
So, here we are, Bojana and I, in London, casting the film. During the next few months, the four-floor building will get emptied in stages. Last to stay was Duko Petricic, in the basement, working on our animated credits. When he left, the building was locked and sold. A few months later, we mixed the film in Elstree Studios, to be sold by Cannon soon after that. London-Cannon production moved to Golden Square for a while then was liquidated. The film was never listed as British, nor was it American. It played in a dozen festivals in Chicago where the film was listed as 'Yugoslavian'. Prints travelled mysterious routes. The company's phone numbers and addresses were changing all the time. Every time there was someone else on the phone.
Most of the film's turbulent background stayed out of the sight of the actors and the crew. The filming was in Yugoslavia, everything needed was provided by Michael Kagan, the line producer, and Jadran Films, under contract.
Duan talked about A Room with a View; I talked about Montenegro and W. R., which I pretended to have seen, being too embarrassed to admit not having done so. He was quite genuinely touched that I had heard of him at all because most people at Cannon seemed not to have done. He didn't really talk about the film, except to mention its title: For a Night of Love.
'You should see Jenkin's Ear at the Royal Court Theatre, with a very interesting actor called Fred Molina,' Simon said.
That's how we got Avanti.
– and I'm delighted to say that some of them are actually in the film. Then I said, 'You must come and have a meal with me.' And so we went and had a meal, at the Café Pelican. They arrived an hour late because of misinformations along the line, but we had a wonderfully lively time. All this is unheard of among film-makers – imagine having just met Michael Cimino and asking him for lunch and knowing that there was absolutely no sense whatever of you trying to put pressure on him to employ you, or trying to ingratiate yourself with him. I had just met a couple of delightful people of whom I wanted to know more.
Makavejev has a constantly surprising brain and speaks English idiomatically, only leaving out most of the articles. The vocabulary is very wide. When Bojana speaks English she puts in the articles; she also speaks French. They are fascinating together: Makavejev is an imp and loves to play with ideas; she's passionate, rather intense, and I suspect helps to prevent his delight in invention from breaking all sense of structure. But that's just impertinent speculation.
My friend and regular stage designer, Bruno Santini joined us for coffee. I had a hunch that we'd all get on together, and so it was. They were curious about his work and life as they are curious about everything, and they somehow included us in their travelling community of artists, engendering a distinctly unEnglish atmosphere, so that, as the Pelican's somewhat theatrically French waiters swished around us, we could have been anywhere in Europe but nowhere in England.
The next time we met I went again to the Cannon office. The lights had been restored. A good sign, I felt. He said, 'You know, I don't want you to play Wango. I'm almost certain that he should be an old man. Apart
After about an hour of this delight they shyly gave me a script and said, 'Please read this. Don't even think about which character you might play. Well, perhaps you might think – just think – about the character of Wango. Think of that character, but basically what we want to know is, what do you think about the script? Do you think it is a good script? Do you think it works? Feel absolutely free to say anything you like.' So we parted on this very convivial note.
I was delighted by the script because it bubbles with mischief and a kind of sophisticated naïveté which seems characteristic of Makavejev and, I suppose, of certain Eastern European films one has enjoyed a great deal, like Forman's early work and other films of Makavejev's own like The Tragedy of a Switchboard Operator and even The Coca-Cola Kid (both of which I have just caught up with in my crash course on Makavejevianism. Still no W. R. yet, though). The script ofFor a Night of Love was mischievous and intellectually playful; sexually playful, too, not out of avoidance or embarrassment, but out of experience and familiarity. Svetlana, the central character, a young woman revolutionary co-ordinating the assassination of a Balkan monarch, seems to walk through an erotic landscape. The role of Wango, the character they told me to 'think about', is not large, but he too is part of the erotic landscape, a photographer obsessed by his wife's body, taking her, as it were, from every angle. I was stirred by the idea of playing this satyr, awash with booze, luxuriating in all the possibilities of the flesh. The kind of character I like to celebrate, though being some distance from it personally.
I immediately phone Makavejev to say how wonderful, how delightful, how delicious. He said to me, 'Now you must help me to cast the film. Please give me a list of actors that are my kind of actors. I want actors who – we can change our plans at the last moment, we can suddenly do something completely unexpected and follow with the impulse, we can improvise the script a little bit, but who are also good human people.' So I suggested a list of half a dozen such –
from that, though, you can play anything you like in the script. Anything. I want you to be in the film and that's that. So really you could play Svetlana if you wanted to.' His eyes lit up. But then he said, 'No. Maybe not Svetlana because, you know, Cannon may be limited in imagination, they wouldn't be able to take that, although I think it would be very interesting indeed. But anything else you want to play ... There are two clear alternatives. One is Lombrosov, the doctor running the lunatic asylum, tremendous character, who must be full of force and energy and can be as peculiar as you like. Interesting character, you could do it very well indeed. However, it is quite a small part. Or there's Hunt who is really no character at all, but he goes all the way through the film. He is the police inspector, police commissioner, he follows Avanti everywhere. What would you like?'
Excerpted from Shooting the Actor by Simon Callow. Copyright © 2003 Simon Callow and Du?an Makavejev. Excerpted by permission of Picador.
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Table of Contents
Introduction to the 2003 Edition,
Merchant and Ivory and Jhabvala,
Introduction to the 1990 Edition,
Cast and credits,
Hollywood via Kansas,
What It's Like,
Also by Simon Callow,